IMO: Platitudes for Happiness

 Aim for the moon. If you miss, you may hit a star.  W. Clement Stone.

As a high school teacher, what’s typical of most schools are the inspirational posters hanging on every wall, every door. Something for students to think about as they walk from A to B.  Advice from a sage like Dedication and dreams are powerful combinations. Character is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking. Don’t give up until you are proud. Prove them wrong. Don’t call it a dream; call it a goal. Do something today that your future self with thank you for….

Wait a minute. I thought happiness was found during the process. It’s the journey, not the destination. After much blood, sweat, and tears for decades, I’m at my destination and still not happy. Life is a struggle at every stage; ultimately, it is a life in motion, shedding one’s skin, in a transition from one stage to another complete with its own set of challenges.  Are you searching for happiness? All those platitudes and lofty goals won’t secure it. Maybe I should aim to be content? Friends say it’s better to be content than happy, but it feels to me to be a disguise for complacency. I’m neither content or happy. That makes me feel like an ingrate. I take my life too seriously. I have issues.

I never wanted to be a high school teacher. I wanted to be a college teacher. I’m tired that I have to work in the trenches, dealing with obnoxious teenagers, to be politically correct, inspirational, and compassionate to all students every day no matter what inappropriate thing they say or do. I am that sergeant in war movies who answers to officers, some idiotic, some great, always a revolving door, the principals, and superintendents who come and go and meanwhile, my responsibilities compound, the acronyms multiply like rabbits. I can’t believe after 18 years, I have to do this for eight more years before I retire. What’s worse, the classes I created, devoted my heart and soul to were taken away and given to younger teachers. I’m supposed to be a good sport, but I am resentful. I already paid my dues. I feel unappreciated. I am steaming, and the bitterness takes root. Why didn’t my dream come true? My trajectory was the moon.
What strange star is this? The dark irony in it all? I’m really good at what I do.

When I reach this irrational, dark, ugly state of being, there are tricks I employ to pull me out of the situational depression. I walk through the hallways and see the sweeties, the great kids who listen, cooperate, want to learn and I focus on their faces and say to myself, “You are the reason I love being a teacher.” They are the talented ones. They are the introverted ones. They are the funny ones who are mischevious with big personalities, and they make me laugh. They are the ones who have giving hearts and optimistic dreams. They are the A+ students who are pegged for greatness, and I can’t wait to hear how all of them turn out. They are the next generation and I have front row seats.

The other night, I was up at 2AM and in a dark mood. Stiff and sore, I couldn’t sleep and I wished I was someone else, somewhere else, and generally feeling sorry for myself. I wished I could feel happiness or contentedness at this stage of my life. That very same morning, one of my stellar students who has a first-rate intellect and wants to become a scientist and solve the riddle of cancer gave me a card.

Ms. Bruchman, I wanted to start off by thanking you for taking the time to write me a teacher recommendation letter. Your support throughout my 4 years of high school has meant a lot to me! If it wasn’t for your belief in me both academically and personally, I wouldn’t be where I am today. You are one of the very special people who has impacted me as a person, and I won’t forget it. Under your influence, I learned and grew so much, especially when it comes to being a leader and speaking front of people! I hope I have made you proud, and I will continue to work hard wherever my future will lead me. Once again, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU so much for everything. Love, Mary.

My Mr. Holland’s Opus moment. An impasse. I am not starting out anymore. I am almost 55, and it’s okay that I’m not in my ambition-driven-make-your-dreams-come-true stage. I feel it finally. I wasn’t “great” in the pursuit of it, I was great because, at my destination, I cared and supported someone else who will surpass my lofty goals by a long shot.That doesn’t mean I’m going to be complacent. I’ve asked the powers that be to let me teach a new class next year which would require a lot of effort and learning and fun on my part. If they let me, I will be energized. If they take it away, I won’t be mad. I will ask for something else.

To be happy, make other people happy.  W. Clement Stone

IMO: Welcome to My World

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?

The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.

Das Buch:   Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI.  I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage.  She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper.  She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?

As teacher:  After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic.  Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.

Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?)  That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.

The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.

The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings/pages/vikings-historians-view

When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!

Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!

Okay, bye again. Back to the novel.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy

IMO: Stuck in the Van with Zealots

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In my opinion, I would rather clean my oven and scrub the toilets than travel ninety minutes each way in a van with outspoken colleagues to attend a professional conference. My nickname is Switzerland because I abhor confrontation and prefer to remain neutral over most topics. I am surrounded by two loud alpha females: one who is passionately a feminist (Sally), while the other is a supercilious Democrat (June). The stoic, older intellectual (Martha) is a Buddhist and a socialist who esteems animals higher than humans; she has a general disregard for Americans. So much so that when she travels, she speaks other languages to avoid being labeled American. Finally, there in the back of the van, the gentle, calculus teacher and coach (Phil), pretends to take a nap. He’s not married.

At least I got to drive which kept me busy. Tired of listening to an hour of extreme opinions, negative attitudes, and the general flush from the two super-fans of Hillary Clinton, I attempted to steer the conversation away from the upcoming election. Let’s talk shop. June prides herself as a senior faculty leader who name-drops her school board friends and is privy to inside information behind administrator’s doors.  I threw out a conversation starter. “How does everyone like our interim superintendent? Do you think he will become our new principal? Who knows of his plans?” There began an eruption of groans and a clamor of disapproval. June assured me there was no way the board would let him stay after his temporary contract was over.

Sally gasped, “Can you believe he initiated the pledge of allegiance back into the classroom?”

I raised my fist with approval.  “I think it’s great. I was surprised when I first moved to Arizona that we didn’t lead the school day with the Pledge. It’s about time!”

Sally and June looked at me with raised eyebrows. June knows I am a Navy veteran. She said casually, “Oh, that’s just the military side of you talking.”

“I don’t do it in my classroom,” said Sally. June agreed. “It’s propaganda. It’s brainwashing.”

I steamed. “I make my kids stand up and say it.”

“You shouldn’t make them.”

I tried to remain calm. “So many have sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy our freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights.”

Sally smacked her thigh. “Precisely why I don’t say it. Free speech. I don’t have to say the pledge just because I’m told to. It’s my right. I don’t pledge my loyalty to the United States of America.”

“But why wouldn’t you want to?”

“This country is fucked up.”

 It was the first time I had a conversation with this new teacher. She talked about leaving AZ and going back to Washington at the end of her annual contract. She aroused in me dark thoughts and mean wishes. I looked at Sally with one eye. My hands were shaking.  “I teach Holocaust Studies and U.S. History. I’m well aware that nationalism is the downfall of the twentieth century. Propaganda, taken too far is dangerous. But how we see ourselves is connected to the values our society believes in. In America, that means rugged determinism. Hard work. Serving others. Going after dreams. Reinventing ourselves when we fail. Perseverance. My national identity is wrapped around a creed that aims to create solidarity. Another creed I identify with is the Apostles Creed.”  It comforts me to identify myself with my country and my God. These creeds are guidelines, reminders of my history, and they define me.

Feel free to be disgruntled with your government, but love your country. I see high school students who don’t know what to believe. All they hear is noise and they stumble around looking like zombies trying to figure out their identities. Understanding why the United States is a great country with an awesome history is a start, and why I love my job. A national identity is a great start. Without loyalty, integrity slips away. Without loyalty to your country, we are loyal to ourselves and such self-absorption halts the growth of communities. That’s where individuals make the biggest impact in their country.

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Why should we pledge ourselves to the flag?

I’ve known women who have lost husbands, sons, and daughters to wars. That folded flag at a funeral is a thank you. A thank you for serving and protecting my freedoms. When I pledge the allegiance to the flag, I see the Revolutionary War. Those were true patriots who died for the principals of freedom. They died for an idea.

I see in the stars and stripes the battle of the Civil War. Northern and Southern soldiers chose to protect the union or were willing to die to protect their land and an ideology. They believed in their principles, and that made them patriots.

In the 20th Century, while late in entering both World Wars, the U.S. aided and served with the Allies to stop dictatorships and uphold democratic ideals. Soldiers died so that their children and grandchildren (us) would enjoy free speech and the right to pursue their dreams. The American flag took a beating after that. Citizens grew angry and unhappy with their country. The Vietnam War was a mess with soldiers who didn’t want to fight in an unwinnable war. But they did go and serve. Civilians started burning the flag. Reagan came along, and as a Teflon President, his strong appearance helped convince Gorbechov they could end the Cold War.

Now all seems like chaos. Special interest groups covet. Desert Storm. Afghanistan. Iraq. Taliban. Isis. It’s a muddled mess with drones and ultra-technology. Now others hate America.  It’s a colossal mess, and I certainly don’t have answers. I can’t imagine any President would want to inherit it all. It’s understandable that people are angry and lost and care little for the U.S. flag. The rise of ex-pats leaving the USA is growing. Okay, go then, if you are consumed with hatred and feel hopeless.

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What I do believe, when I say the Pledge of the Allegiance, is I’m thankful for the original soldiers who fought for an idea. Their strength of character inspires me. I strive for my accomplishments. I earn them. The flag symbolizes the American Spirit which I stress in class. Through hard work and determinism, anyone can strive for a better life. I pledge my allegiance to the flag because chaos from the past offers us a balancing stick to cross the tightrope of chaos today. To me, it is an insult, a dishonor not to say The Pledge of Allegiance.

I still don’t know who I’m voting for on Tuesday.

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